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Archive for June, 2001

Tuesday 5 June 2001 – Guanaqueros to Santiago

And so we reached our last day in Chile. The landscape, that had looked so dry when we had driven through it a month earlier, now looked distinctly green, compared to the really dry north where we had been.

Apparently deep in thought, digesting the glorious sights we had seen, we forgot that, even along the Pan American Highway, it is good to keep the fuel tank above half way full. As we were also running low on money, we passed by a petrol station that did not accept credit cards, thinking that we’d soon find another that did. Wrong!

As the fuel gauge approached empty, Leo slowed down to optimum speed, coasting down hills – anything to conserve fuel. We stopped at a small hamlet – Puenta Huentelaquin, some 38 km north of Los Villos where, according to the map, we would find our next petrol station. As we were convinced that we did not have enough fuel to get to Los Villos, we hoped to persuade people in the hamlet to sell us a few litres of petrol. We were in luck! The local tyre repair man had two very old pumps from which we were able to fill up the car – a close call!

We made only one stop today (S107), the last of the trip, at Pichidangui. How we wished we had more film and I made a note to return here on a future trip (see 4 June 2003) and to read up Fred Kattermann’s book Eriosyce before doing so.

Our original plan was to spend the last night at the El Parador cabañas near Calue, but as we had made good time, and Marlon’s flight to Brazil required a 6 a.m. check-in, we decided to spend the night in Santiago. However, we had to go to El Parador to return some spare car parts that we had borrowed on the way up and to cancel our bookings.

We arrived in Santiago, around sunset and made for the Airport, hoping to find some basic and affordable accommodation, but somehow got caught up in the flow of traffic, ending up in the centre of Santiago, surrounded by endless lanes and rows of busses.

We spotted a hotel sign, found a place to pull up and tired but happy booked in, to finish off the remainder of the red wine we had had on board while we did our final packing.

There’s not much left to report for the next day, other than that we made it safely to the airport, nearly missed the car-rental rep as he arrived just as we had to go to through customs into the departure launch.

It had been a fantastic trip: we had seen lots of marvellous plants and scenery, met some wonderful people and made some lasting friendships.

In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: ‘I’ll be back!’

Monday 4 June 2001 – Vallenar to Guanaqueros

We started the day with a stop in the town of Vallenar (S0102), on a field next to some building development work. If the form of Copiapoa coquimbana from this area is C. vallenarensis, then surely these plants, growing well within the town boundary, deserve this name. They may no longer be there as clearly, the field would be the next target for the developers.*

Km. 647 along Ruta 5 was our next stop (S0103), again with (taller) Copiapoa coquimbana, Cumulopuntia sphaerica, Miqueliopuntia miquelii and some Echinopsis (Trichocereus) chiloensis. 

With one more day to go, our mood had changed. Mentally, I’m sure we were all preparing for our home coming and a return to regular daily routines. We were running very low on film, so the urge to stay long at stops to take more pictures had gone. This ‘end of trip’ depression is also reflected in my notes, which are limited to only a stop number and GPS coordinates recorded for:

S0104 off Ruta 5 (The Pan Americana)

S0105 Quebrada Choros Altos

S0106 Quebrada Choros Altos, Chugungoe in 2006

* We returned here in 2006 and found that the local council had made an attempt to rescue these plants and had replanted them in a gentle sloping hillside. Some had survived, some had not. The building development had become established as a school. Let’s hope that looking after their local nature will be part of the school curriculum.

Sunday 3 June 2001 – Chañaral to Vallenar

As we drove south along Ruta 5, the km. posts, showing the distance to Santiago showed less than 1,000 km to go – so a ‘homeward bound’ feeling crept over our party.

We stopped, at Ricardo’s suggestion, at a prominent shrine at km 950 along the Pan Americana (S097). We had stopped here on the way north, but purely to stretch our legs – the scenery of large boulders did not suggest a cactus habitat. Ricardo and Ingrid guided us between the boulders and pointed out the Copiapoa calderana var. spinosior that was growing here, as well a small Eriosyce (Neoporteria) pulchella.

A bit further along Ruta 5, (S098) we stopped again to look at ‘proper’ C. calderana and for our final goodbyes to Rudolf, Attila, Michelle, Ricardo and Ingrid – it had been great fun travelling in their company.

Things went quiet in our car, as the realisation that we’d be leaving in two days time hit home. We all agreed that we wanted to go back via Totoral and Carrizal Bajo to take another look and more photographs of the Copiapoa dealbata that impressed us so much on our way north at the start of our trip.

And so, we turned west off Ruta 5 and headed for Totoral, stopping a few km past the small village (S099) where we found two forms of C. echinoides :- the dark skinned C. dura and lighter coloured C. cuprea. Unfortunately, I had run out of charged batteries for my digital camera, so was only able to take slides of the plants here and at the next stop (S100), where C. echinoides was now growing right alongside C. dealbata / C. carrizalensis with both species in flower, without any obvious barriers to cross pollination between them.

This was a truly magnificent stop and I praised my digital camera, now recharged from the car’s cigarette lighter socket, as we were all running short of slide film. I had brought a laptop computer to down load the digital images from the Flashcards, but even this had its limitations and the 5GB hard drive (considered exceptionally large at the time!) was rapidly running out of space and would need some selective deleting of less than perfect images to allow me to down load today’s crop of pictures. Just as we’d decided that we had taken enough pictures, one of us would find another exceptionally nice plant or another spectacular cristate.

Time was pressing on, and as the track was one of the worst that we’d been on, it was difficult to guess when we would reach Carrizal Bajo and the better quality road to Ruta 5 and Vallenar.

We allowed ourselves one more stop (S101), to take pictures of C. echinata and it was near dusk before we could see the outline of Carrizal Bajo. What we had not counted on was that the sandbank that we had driven across on 14 May was a tidal feature and now – with the tide in – invisible. What to do? Leo shouted across the water to some local couples, out for a Sunday evening stroll to see the sunset. Their reply was not good – the tide would cover the track until early morning, there were no crossings further inland and the only way back seemed to be along the ‘bone-shaker’ track to Totoral. With heavy hearts we started the journey back. After a few km, Leo uttered some Dutch curses, turned the car round and we sat in silence as we drove towards the water’s edge, with the lights of Carrizal Bajo beckoning across the other side.

Our silence turned into screams of excitement, encouragement and fear as Leo selected the most appropriate gear, revved the engine hard and built up some speed before we hit the water. Yes, it was sheer madness, but none of us had really wanted to go through the ordeal of the overland journey via Totoral again. Our camera equipment and my laptop were on our laps, just in case the water should rise above the car’s sill or worse, in case we would have to evacuate the car. The locals on the beach joined in with our shouts and screams and cheered and applauded when we reached dry land. Never again!.*

*PS We were here again in November 2008 when good progress had been made to build a viaduct for a brand new motorway a little inland.

Saturday 2 June 2001 – Pan de Azucar pt.2

The Pan de Azucar National Park is just too large to see in one day, even if you only concentrate on the Copiapoa highlights.

First stop of the day (S091) was at a fluvial sand bed, but there were no signs of recent water flowing through here. The Copiapoa cinerea ssp. columna-alba here were young plants, compared to the old giants that we had seen elsewhere. But how young is ‘young’, when seedlings, molly-cuddled in our European collections, can take a decade or more to reach 10 cm in height?

Our next stop (S092) was a short valley running inland to the east of the track. Here we found C. cinarescens, some C. marginata and finally C. serpentisulcata, growing at the end of the valley. Usually C. cinarescens and C. serpentisulcata are easily distinguished, although both tend to form nice symmetrical mounds. But here, at the end of the valley, there were a large number of what can only be described as intermediates between the two. There were large numbers of unusually nice Eulychnia saint-pienna and it was interesting to see how C. marginata tended to grow at the foot of these Eulychnia ‘trees’, perhaps for protection, but more likely to benefit from moisture that would drop down these ‘natural fog nets’. Judging by the lichen and algae that grew on the Eulychnia, fog was a regular occurrence here. Here, the C. marginata tended to grow as single, solitary plants, dotted around the valley, rather than forming the clumps or dense stands that we had seen at Morro Copiapó.

Walking back to the main track, this time along the (shadow) south facing wall of the valley, Attila and I were excited to find a single ‘different’ Copiapoa – was this something new? It was certainly ‘different’ enough to mark the spot with a separate stop number (S093). Our answer came the next day, south of Chañaral, when we found lots more of these plants growing right along Ruta 5 and there more easily recognised as Copiapoa calderana var. spinosior.  

The next stop (S094), west of the track at the sign for Loberos, we found more C. cinarescens and C. serpentisulcata. The latter was also found at the next stop (S095), at sea level, along the beach.

We left the park through the Chañaral gate. As the mouth of the (dry) Rio Salado opened up before us, we followed a track along the southern hill slopes of the Pan de Azucar National Park. Ritter had reported C. hypogaea from ‘the hills north of Chañaral Airport’, so, as we could see the airport in the valley, we made some brief stops exploring the foothills (all recorded as S096) but only found an Eriosyce (Neoporteria) sp. There were some suggestions that in Ritter’s days, the Airport had been located further inland, but more exploration work during our 2003 indicated that Ritter must have walked over the hills, rather than stay near the track.

Back at the Hosteria in Chañaral, we compared notes before going for dinner (sea food, what else!) at a wonderful restaurant near Barquito, just south of Chañaral, as this was to be our last evening together as a large party.

Friday 1 June 2001 – Pan de Azucar pt.1

We returned to the Pan de Azucar National Park and drove to the furthest point north – Las Lomitas (S085). This time the fog was out and we could enjoy the marvellous views. There are some cabins and fog nets and in summer, this must be a popular place to visit, evidenced by the three foxes that were tame enough to snatch some cream crackers from Leo and Attila. They scoffed them greedily only to discover their mistake when it came to needing a drink to wash them down – not in a desert!

Our next stop (S086) was home to a heavy spined form of Copiapoa cinerea ssp. columna-alba, plants that Ritter described as C. melanohystrix.

At our next stop (S087), we were surprised to find Opuntia tunicata, a North American Cylindropuntia that has escaped into the wild and is regarded to be a separate subspecies: chilensis.

We followed a track that ran along the edge of the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, stopping (S088) when we saw some typical Copiapoa flowers, emerging from the gravel. We took pictures of the plant after we had brushed away the dust and gravel – was this C. hypogaea? We thought so at the time, but having seen more readily recognisable plants in 2003, I’m not so sure.

We were looking for C. laui – not easy to find plants the size of matchstick heads! As there were 5 cars, we decided the stop 1 km apart from each other and cover the distance to the next car, along one side of the track and then repeat the search on the walk back, along the other side of the track. Not an easy task but as Michelle, Attila and I were about half way to the next car – there was a yellow flower, growing out of the gravel! C. laui. (S089).

The last stop of the day was at the Park’s Ranger Station, where a small garden (The Cactarium) was home to some of the Cactaceae reported from the Park.(S090).


S088: Growing at the edge of the coastal hills over looking the Pacific Ocean,
south of Las Lomitas – is this Ritter’s C. esmeraldana?
or C hypogaea, as we thought at the time? or Doweld’s C. grandiflora ssp ritteri?